About the Four Types of Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels have been serving man’s energy needs since ancient times. As the name suggests, fossil fuels are formed from the organic remains of prehistoric plants and animals. These remains, which are millions of years old, were converted by heat and pressure in the Earth's crust into carbon-containing fuels.

Our energy needs have increased since the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuels are capable of producing tremendous amount of energy to meet this need. Fossil fuels include petroleum, coal and natural gas. Orimulsion recently has been recognized as the fourth fossil fuel.


Petroleum, or crude oil, is the most extensively used fossil fuel. Due to its value to mankind, it is also known as "black gold." The word petroleum comes from the Latin words "petro" (meaning rock) and "leum" (meaning oil).

Petroleum mainly is used to fuel jets and automobiles. It also is used to generate electricity, and its derivatives are utilized in the medicine and plastic industries. As demand for oil is still increasing, the average worldwide rate of oil field depletion is believed to be around 2.5 percent per year, according to Richard Heinberg, an eminent ecology writer. The widespread use of petroleum also has contributed to air and water pollution.


Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel resource. It provides about one-quarter of the total energy the world uses, and 40 percent of the electricity generated worldwide is powered by coal. The steel industry also is greatly dependent upon this fossil fuel. Like other depleting sources of global energy, coal reserves are also on a steep decline. Moreover, coal is a greenhouse gas nightmare.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is comprised mostly of methane, although it also contains ethane, propane and butane. It is a convenient and efficient energy source. The major consumers of natural gas are the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. It is also used to generate electricity. Unlike other fossil fuels, natural gas is cleaner and causes less pollution. Like other fossil fuels, this resource is depleting rapidly.


Orimulsion became the “fourth fossil fuel” in the mid-1980s. It is derived from the bitumen that occurs naturally in large reserves in the Orinoco oil belt in Venezuela. It is estimated that there are more than 1.2 trillion barrels of bitumen available in reserves, an amount greater than 50 percent of the world's estimated oil reserves.

Orimulsion has achieved growing recognition as an economically viable fuel for power generation. In countries such as Canada, Denmark, Japan, Italy, Lithuania and China, it is used as a commercial boiler fuel in power plants. Orimulsion is the cost-effective choice when compared to other fossil fuels used to generate electricity.

Future of Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are non-renewable sources of energy. As we are excessively dependent on these, alternative forms of energy need to be developed in order to deal with the imminent energy scarcity. These alternate sources of energy also need to be more eco-friendly.



About the Author

Debashree Sen is a technical writer and has written for non-profit organizations. She has been regularly contributing to eHow since 2009. She is a member of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). She has a master's degrees in professional writing and English literature.

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